Reprinted from "Rainbow Wind" Magazine
This month's rune, Kenaz, is the sixth rune of the first aett of the Elder Futhark. Thus, we are now one-quarter of the way through our journey into the runes! The phonetic value of Kenaz is the hard "k" sound.
One basic meaning of "Kenaz" is torch or knowledge. This meaning is the one presented in the Old English Rune Poem. Another name for this rune, "Kaunaz," means a sore or boil. This is the meaning of the rune in the Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme and the Old Icelandic Rune Poem.
Modern derivatives of these two words are ken (Lowland Scots English dialect for "to know"), can (=to be able to), candle, canker (sore) and keen (can mean both "painfully sharp" or "to wail loudly" as in "Ouch!" both of which fit well here,although I think the wailing-meaning is from Gaelic, a non-Germanic language). As you can see, a good etymological dictionary might prove surprisingly useful to your runic studies! The magickal and divinatory meanings of this rune include a torch (source of light), knowledge (of the outer, intellectual kind, as opposed to the inner knowledge embodied in Ansuz), guidance, a beacon, a lighthouse (or, these days, the lights on an airport runway that guide the airplane to land safely), learning (as in "book larnin' "), skills and talents, education, revelation, artificial lighting (Sowilo is the Sun's light), batteries (safer, more convenient and longer-lasting than the old-fashioned wooden torches they have replaced; although the British still call a flashlight a "torch"), books (a great source of knowledge in these relatively literate times), exploration, and discovery.
Torches are still familiar today, although not the items of everyday use they once were. Torchlight processions were once common. Think of the assemblage of torch-bearing peasants marching on the castle of Dr. Frankenstein, a mis-user of the forces embodied in the Kenaz Rune! Even today, arsonists still "torch" a building!
Since torches provide light, and represent fire under human control, they are a good symbol of knowledge and en-LIGHT-enment. Ideas, like the fire of torches, can be carried about from place to place, and passed on to others without the holder having to give them up. Unlike the sun's fire, "domesticated" fire must be tended to prevent it from dying out! With skills and knowledge, as with many other things, the rule is "use it or lose it"!
Light is also a symbol of hope. We speak of hope "flickering," and of "the light at the end of the (dark) tunnel." Kenaz ties in with the bonfires of Beltaine (May Day) and Midsummer's Day. These were maintained over most of Europe even after the imposition of Christianity. Hope also bears within it the promise of fulfillment. The lantern held by the Hermit of the Tarot deck ties in with Kenaz. By the way, Tarot enthusiasts, Odin, the wisest God, and One who paid dearly for his knowledge, is related to the Hanged Man of the Tarot. The traditional Sun card has two children, a boy and a girl, on it. These have a connection to Frey and Freya, the "Lord" and "Lady" well-known to most contemporary Pagans.
Libraries, schools, and laboratories are places to see the Kenaz rune in action. Although Dagaz, the next-to-the-last rune in the futhark, is the usual rune of revelations, Kenaz can be used to reveal things of an intellectual nature.
The secondary meaning of this rune, that of "sore," is not to be neglected. Remember that many sores are in-FLAMM-ations. This is a derivative of the Latin "flamma": FLAME, that is, as in torch. The pain of sores, especially cankers and boils, is often said to burn. They can torment you until you do something about them by taking much-needed action. This is usually for your own good. If it weren't for the gift of pain, be it of the mind, body or spirit, we wouldn't take nearly as good care of ourselves! Loki, the trickster God, by the way, has FLAMING red hair (some would say he's "flaming" in other ways as well!), and is sometimes associated with fire. He is certainly clever and witty enough, and in my interpretation of Norse Heathenism, he keeps evolution moving along by goading the other Gods. This fights against inertia and the continuation of the cozy but ultimately stagnating status quo.
Kenaz can also represent an idea with which we are uncomfortable. Other sores all of us must deal with, whether we like it or not and however we may try putting it off, are resentments, guilt and traumatic memories. These things must be handled directly and will NOT go away by themselves! All of these meanings have obvious links to Elemental Fire, and Elemental Water can be helpful in healing them. The Perthro rune can also be of use.
A minority of folks have no real spiritual interests. The majority does, but does not necessarily want to become expert in the field. A relative few, fortunately or not, have a BURNING need to know, to be, to evolve into more than they have previously been. In this is to be seen the action of the Kenaz rune. In Norse tradition, this is seen as a wound made by Odin's spear. Check out Odin's Rune Song in the Havamal of the Elder Edda. Odin both hangs himself from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and wounds himself with his spear in order to win knowledge of the Runes. This experience is often compared to a shamanic or initiatory crisis, or in modern parlance, a "spiritual emergency." I've been through this. I DON'T recommend it to the bored thrill-seeker. It hit me out of an apparently blue sky, like a ton of bricks, on what I later learned was my astrological "Saturn return." The results? I left a Christian seminary, came out as a gay man, and turned Pagan, all in less than a year and a half. Only Odin can cure the wound he has caused. Only Yggdrasil itself, the organizing principle of the Universe, will satisfy one so marked.
The Havamal (the words of Odin, the "High One") teaches that one can know too much. I can testify to that. What I went through damn near killed me; but on the other hand, if I hadn't acknowledged and gone through the process, I would never have been truly alive! I'm NOT trying to set up an elitist caste of Wise Ones, nor am I saying that ignorance is bliss. I'm just saying that there is such a thing as the pain of knowledge or the pain of knowing, and that there is simply no way around this. In my Kindred of Norse Heathens, our leader reminds of this each year in Autumn when he does the "Odin's Rune Rite" ritual. He puts a ritual dagger to each of our chests and asks us to reflect in our hearts on the question: "What will YOU give for wisdom?" Odin gave an eye, hanged and speared himself on Yggdrasil, and stole the mead of wisdom. I've already paid through the nose for wisdom, and I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm by no means through paying for it! This is not because the Gods are cruel, greedy or stingy; it's just the way the Universe works. "No pain; no gain!" However, this should not be an excuse to turn from life, get involved in the dryness and sterility of asceticism, or grow bitter. Life, all in all, is very good indeed, as are the Gods and Goddesses. They are our friends!
B.P. (Before Penicillin), wounds were often treated by cauterization (burning with a hot iron). Fire can purify. Think of the medieval Vikings, who were sent to Odin on a blazing funeral pyre, often aboard a longship!
Kenaz can (remember the connection!) help you gain access to knowledge (cunning), skills, and craftmanship. It can help you find talents you didn't even know you had, and to express well and clearly your new ideas. This article itself partakes of the Kenaz rune (among others)!
As Kaunaz, the sore, this rune can produce discomfort. However, those in the KNOW can turn this to their own advantage. May this rune, in both its aspects, help you to shed light upon that which is truly and authentically you and yours (represented by the Othala rune).
Works consulted for this series of articles: At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. and The Road to Bifrost Volume III: The Runes and Holy Signs by Thorr and Audrey Sheil. Their Old Norse Mysteries, Deities and Worship is also well worth reading.